Secrets for Getting the Best Corn
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Corn was the first major food crop of Native Americans more a thousand years ago and it remains the dominant food crop in modern America.
However, very little of the corn grown today is eaten directly by people. Most corn is used for animal feed, corn syrup, and ethanol for cars. A few ears of hybridized GMO corn wind up on the grocery store shelf.
If you want your own delicious, freshly-picked, non-GMO corn, you have to grow it yourself. These tips will help you get started.
First, it is important to remember that corn is self-pollinated. Each corn plant possesses both the male and female reproductive parts. The tassel, the star at the top of the corn, is the male part. The corn silk flowing out of each cob is the female part.
Wind blows pollen grains from the tassel down to the silk to pollinate the corn. When a grain of pollen touches a strand of silk, a tube forms within the silk strand down to the cob. This pollination sets a corn kernel.
There are between 700 and 1,000 potential kernels on each corn cob. You want as many of these kernels pollinated as possible to develop a full ear of corn. If you get an ear of corn with missing kernels, the cob was not fully pollinated.
To ensure maximum pollination, plant corn densely. Plant several short rows close together, or several plants in a mound, rather than long single rows. Also, plant only one variety per stand so there is no cross-pollination.
Plant your corn in well-tilled, well-drained, heavily composted soil. Sow the seeds every few inches about an inch deep, then thin the sprouts to 10” to 12” final spacing. Water well until established, but do not overwater once cobs form.
The corn ear worm can burrow beneath the husk to eat the kernels. Drop a small amount of mineral oil into the opening at the tip of the husk to eliminate them.
The corn is ripe when pinching a kernel yields milky to clear juice. The ideal way to tell is to pull back the husk and taste it—you will know!
The best overall sweet corn variety is the Silver Queen. The varieties, Incredible and Peaches and Cream, are also good. You can find these seeds at Moore than Feed in Rockport, probably the best seed resource in the Coastal Bend.
For field corn (less sweet, tastes “cornier”), try our favorites Oaxacan Green or Cherokee White Eagle. Order these seeds online from Baker Creek Seed Company at rareseeds.com.